The $5 Lean Manufacturing Primer—Lunch Included

A field trip to your local sub shop can yield far more than a made-to-order hoagie.



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Introducing a cutting-edge, innovative training program on the topic of lean manufacturing. The program is guaranteed to gain any individual or management team a basic understanding of lean manufacturing principles.
This seminar is not free, but the registration fee for each attendee approximates just five $5. A made-to-order lunch will be served to all in attendance and is included in the cost of registration.

The location of the seminar is very likely less than a few miles from your finishing line, and those attending in warm climes will be encouraged to learn that the classroom is air-conditioned.

A lean manufacturing case study will be demonstrated. The demonstration includes a production line that requires that every single order is a custom order. Customer lead times approximate five minutes, give or take a couple. Waste due to rework on this line is next to non-existent. This seminar is open to any finisher.

So where do you go for a seminar that guarantees attendees a great primer on lean manufacturing? How can an informative lean manufacturing seminar be conducted for only five dollars, and on top of that include the cost of a meal? How can such a seminar be offered within a few miles of almost any finishing operation? Where can one witness five-minute lead times being met for custom production orders, almost without exception?

Find the answers to these and other questions at … your local Subway restaurant!

This idea dawned on me recently as I stood at the Subway counter and ordered my tuna salad on honey oat bread with tomatoes, lettuce, black olives and jalapeno peppers, topped off by Southwest chipotle dressing. Pausing. Savoring.

Now … what can Subway teach us about lean? What should your team notice when they attend the “seminar”? You may think I’m kidding, but I’m not. One of the best places for a finisher to learn the basics of lean is at the Subway. For this reason, I recently took my management team to the “Subway Seminar” (my term for standing at the counter and observing the sandwich assembly process). Really.

Consider this … Everything ordered at Subway is a custom order. Salad or pizza, flat bread or Italian, any toppings you want, hot or cold, made completely to order in less than five minutes. Maximum customer choices and minimum lead time.

The Subway manufacturing process exudes single piece flow. There is no batching and no mass production at Subway. Each and every unit is made one at a time.

Motion waste is almost non-existent. All necessary inventory (bread, tomatoes, onions, you name it) is located right at its point of use and product flows perfectly from one end of the production line to the other. It never moves backwards.

At Subway, systems are standardized. Whether I order my meal at lunchtime from the Subway located a few blocks from my plant in Chilton, WI, or for dinner at the Subway less than a mile from my plant in Eldridge, IA, they make it the same way.

Work areas are kept clean. An errant piece of spinach or an olive in the banana pepper bin is removed and either disposed of immediately or returned to its proper location.

All necessary equipment—the toaster oven, for example—is placed at the point of use. Likewise tools such as the sandwich cutting knife are returned to the same location every time, so there’s never any time wasted in finding them when they are needed next.

Perhaps what fascinated me the most as I attentively observed the goings-on behind the counter at Subway was the way the Sandwich Assembly Technicians (likely not their actual title, but it has a certain ring) spent their time as they waited for the next sandwich, salad or pizza to make it to their part of the production line. Rather than waiting, staring at the ceiling, twiddling their thumbs or engaging in idle chatter with one another or the customers, they immediately looked at which fixing bins were running low and feverishly replenished the bins with raw (literally and figuratively) stock. Minimal non-value added or wasted labor.

What other lean manufacturing principles can your team identify on a trip to Subway?

I should note that I’m sure Subway is probably not alone among fast food restaurants in its application of lean production principles in its processes. I’m sure examples abound of lean applications in the world of burgers, fries and apple pies. What makes Subway unique, though, is that the customer can watch the entire production process as it takes place, thus making it a fantastic learning opportunity.

A goofy idea? Yes. A brilliant and effective one? I humbly admit it. If you want to start your team on its lean journey, there may be no more appropriate place to begin that at the counter of your local Subway.